From the random tennis court in New York's Grand Central Terminal to the world's tallest rollercoaster in New Jersey, the United States is full of surprises and super-sized extremes. Travelers in America have access to some of the world's most astonishing natural and human-made wonders—marvels that have graced the covers of global magazines and filled the shots in blockbuster epics. With so many parks, landmarks, and monuments to see, the hardest part is deciding where to begin.
Mount Rushmore, carved into the granite of the Black Hills between 1927 and 1941, is extraordinary. This colossal sculpture featuring the visages of presidents Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln, was designed and executed by Gutzon Borglum. It involved loads of dynamite, but, thankfully, no one was harmed during its construction. However, there are well-founded rumors the construction workers managed to do some damage to the pockets of passing tourists. Honeycombing, a hand-drilling technique used to chisel the granite, resulted in granite slabs with beautifully even holes. Tourists wanted to buy these souvenirs, but the workers said they weren't allowed to until the price was about as high as the mountain.
Times Square used to be known as Longacre Square back in 1903 before the New York Times moved in. The first New Year's Eve ball drop was earlier than you might expect too—it occurred in 1907. And when WW2 drew to a close, Times Square filled with hundreds of thousands of revelers on V-J Day and set the scene for the sailor kiss that sailed around the world. These days, every building in this most touristy of New York attractions must have a certain amount of display lighting, as per local law. And since 2009, this spot has been pretty much car-free.
President Lincoln signed the Yosemite Land Grant in 1864. The Mariposa Grove and Yosemite Valley inspired the government to formalize the protection of land for its natural splendor. Today, you can go to Yosemite and see rock formations ablaze at sunset or watch lunar rainbows amidst waterfalls during spring nights. Yosemite is also the only national park to make a hosting bid for the Olympics. It was gunning for the 1932 Winter Olympics but lost to Lake Placid.
George Washington had a hand in selecting a site for the White House, although he never did end up living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. In 1800, John and Abigail Adams were the first First Couple to live at the 'presidential palace' or 'executive mansion'—the building only got its name a century later when Teddy Roosevelt used it on stationery. Torched by British soldiers in 1814, it was reconstructed by 1817. And for two and half years, starting in 1917, suffragettes camped outside the White House so women could get to vote. The White House has 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms, 28 fireplaces, 412 doors, 3000 members of staff, and a bowling alley. It is said to be haunted by presidents of yore and may be home to a secret underground command center since 2010.
While we're in Washington, D.C., let's zip across to another famous landmark. Did you know the Lincoln Memorial was built atop less than coveted real estate? The area used to be a damp and dingy swamp full of mosquitoes, unlucky vagrants, and even a few dead bodies. This monument, open since 1922, is a fitting homage to a remarkable statesman—it looks like the Parthenon but could have gone the way of the pyramids, and it has an undercroft filled with stalactites. The undercroft could soon be reopened to the public.
The Hollywood sign is iconic. It was created in the early 1920s as a real estate advertisement for a development called Hollywoodland. Lights illuminated Holly, Wood, Land, and the whole name together in four shining parts, and the sign was shortened to just Hollywood in 1949. In 1932, the theatre actress Peg Entwistle tragically took her own life by jumping off the 'H.' Playboy boss Hugh Hefner, and rockstar Alice Cooper were part of a group who funded a new and improved sign in the 1970s.
An Arizona landmark, the Grand Canyon is larger than Rhode Island and filled with hidden caves. It takes 5 hours to drive between the North Rim and the South Rim, even though they're only 10 miles apart. There's also a town in the Grand Canyon—Supai Village is part of an Indian Reservation, and 208 people call it home. It's an incredibly remote place, the most remote in the lower 48 states, and pack mules deliver the mail here.
Niagara Reservation was established in 1885. Designed by the legendary Frederic Law Olmsted, who also designed Central Park in NYC, Niagara Falls State Park was America's first state park. The renowned showman P.T. Barnum wanted to transform Goat Island into a circus, but that never quite panned out, nor did his attempts to buy the American Falls section so he could charge admission. Visit Stunter's Rest to see where various Niagara Falls daredevils are buried, or take a trip to Lewiston, the last stop on the Underground Railroad, to appreciate how far we've come and how long we still have to go.
There's so much concrete in Hoover Dam, about 4.5 million cubic yards, you could build a four-foot sidewalk to circle the Earth's equator. And because of the sheer quantity of poured concrete, there's a myth that people were buried alive, but fatalities occurred due to falling rocks and equipment. Hoover dam was a suspected German target during WW2 so the authorities closed the dam and significantly upped the security in the area.
The golden gate in the Golden State was never supposed to be golden. The most famous suspension bridge in the world is painted a hue called International Orange, but this color was meant to be a primer. The U.S. Navy envisioned a highly visible blue and yellow bridge, but a consulting architect decided the burnt red looked pretty good and was visible on both foggy and sunny days.